Sunday, September 24, 2006

Isn't It Ironic (Don'tcha Think)?

Perhaps one of the sternest warnings in all the New Testament is found in Hebrews 6:4-8. I'd like to highlight the most common interpretations of this pasage, and then throw in an interesting take on it and get your thoughts.

One obvious way of tackling this passage involves biting the bullet and admitting that the people in question were once Christians, but that they lost their salvation (a view once associated almost solely with Arminianism, but which has been adopted, in a qualified form, by proponents of the Federal Vision).

The view that most Calvinists espouse is that the blessings mentioned (enlightenment, having tasted of the heavenly gift, having shared in the Holy Spirit, and having tasted the goodness of the Word of God and the powers of the age to come) are common, rather than saving, blessings. In other words, all these things can be said about the hypocrite who, like Judas, progressed quite far in the Christian life but who never truly exercised saving faith.

But a slightly different interpretation has been suggested by R. Fowler White. His position is as follows:

The writer to the Hebrews is attributing actual saving blessings to actual apostates (which is the most natural reading of the passage), blessings that were legitimately ascribed when the apostate initially believed. Although at the end of the day, if the apostate remains in his condition, these blessings would never have been his true possession, we're not at "the end of the day" but in the middle of it. The writer, therefore, was not in a position to know the apostate's heart, only his original profession and his current state. He then takes these into account and employs "reproachful irony" in order to bring out the danger being flirted with (Mark 2:17; Matt. 8:12).

White argues:
"On the premise that the faith of their audiences was covenantally credible, the [New Testament] writers ascribed to them all sorts of blessedness.... On the premise that the faith of their audiences was undifferentiated, the writers exhorted their audiences to perseverance (and were covenantally bound to do so), with promise of everlasting blessedness for perseverance, and warning of everlasting curse for apostasy" (The Auburn Avenue Theology: Pros and Cons, 213, emphasis added).